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Wyoming wide receiver Jake Maulhardt has 11 catches for 173 yards and a TD in his last 3 games

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LARAMIE, Wyoming — Last summer, Wyoming wide receiver Jake Maulhardt learned a valuable and sleep-depriving lesson:

Winners never nap.

The 6-foot-6, 215-pound sophomore wide receiver — an admitted nap enthusiast — had the hobby ripped away from him, replaced with daily throwing sessions with quarterback and roommate Colby Kirkegaard.

Whenever Maulhardt started to doze off, Kirkegaard would show up.

"We have to go practice. We have to throw."

"We'd go out there during the week and just throw with each other," Maulhardt said. "We got a lot of the timing down then. Now, it's starting to show up."

After notching only seven catches in his first seven games, Maulhardt has piled up 11 catches for 173 yards and a touchdown in his last three contests. Those performances have been highlighted by chunk plays — a twisting 57-yard catch against Colorado State, and a diving 53-yard grab against Utah State.

While his 6-6 frame makes him a sizable target in the red zone, it also presents its fair share of challenges in beating man coverage. Maulhardt doesn't flash the speed to blow by a cornerback on a go-route, or the elusiveness to lose a defender with a quick cut.

Under the tutelage of wide receivers coach Kenni Burns, Maulhardt has focused on using his physicality and hands to create separation from defenders.

That separation is beginning to yield results.

"He's a bigger guy, a little bit stiffer guy, but he's really loosened up his upper body," Burns said. "He's doing a better job of using his hands and being physical, using that advantage that he has in his height and size to get off the ball.

"Once he gets behind a guy, he's gotten faster. He's been able to pull away."

When the ball is in the air, Maulhardt's experience kicks in. The lanky pass-catcher was the recipient of countless fade routes in high school, when he was asked to locate and nab the football at its highest point.

If Kirkegaard throws it up, Maulhardt will usually bring it down.

"Your confidence grows when he makes a big play like he did against CSU," Kirkegaard said. "I just threw that one up to him and he made a big play on the deep route. Each time he makes one of those big plays, my confidence as a quarterback grows higher and higher, just because he's so physical and such a big body.

"It's hard to miss."

Wyoming's biggest wide receiver is hard to miss in run-blocking as well, willing and able to utilize his physicality to lock onto cornerbacks and shove them out of the play.

In an offense predicated on the run game, offensive coordinator Brent Vigen requires selfless wide receivers who take pride in downfield blocking away from the ball.

Maulhardt fits the bill.

"He's a shining example out there for the way we want those guys to play," Vigen said.

Whether he's trying to separate on a route or finish a key block, Maulhardt's physicality is on display.

Almost to a fault.

"I'll be blocking and I'll hear the ref yell, 'Whistle, whistle, whistle!'" Maulhardt said with a grin. "I know I'm pushing it sometimes, and sometimes they go over to coach Bohl and tell them I need to calm down a little bit."

In Wyoming's offense, the run feeds the pass and the pass feeds the run.

That's particularly true of Maulhardt's blocking.

"What people don't understand is that you can really mess with a DB's psyche," Burns said. "So many times, Jake has caught a ball after a play where he has taken a defensive back down in a run block. It's crazy. The guy gets up and he's aggravated a little bit.

"And the next play, Jake runs right by him."

With two games remaining in his sophomore season, Maulhardt's devotion to physical play is beginning to pay off.

So are all those missed naps.

"I didn't nap as much as I'd like to during the summer," Maulhardt said with a sigh. "But it's all worth it now."


Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com

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